Madera, Calif., almond grower Dave Loquaci isn’t the only one surprised by the first California almond crop estimate.

“Most of us in this area were considerably taken aback by it,” he says. “Based on how the almond crop, in general, looks around here, we thought the estimate would be much lower.”

Released in early May, the initial, subjective forecast predicts California growers will produce 1.45 billion pounds of almonds this year, 10 percent below last year’s final production of 1.61 billion pounds.

His company, Madera Ag Services, grows a number of almond varieties. The biggest percentage is Nonpareil; others include Aldrich, Monterey and Carmel.

“Some of the pollinators in the Madera area don’t look too bad,” Loquaci says. “But, the Nonpareil crop appears to be down, even in fields not affected by the frost in March.”

That frost is one reason area growers believe the crop is smaller than the first subjective estimate.

“Quite a few of the orchards that I farm, as well as a lot of those on the East Side of the county, got frosted,” Loquaci says. “Some guys will be lucky to have 30 percent to 40 percent of their normal size crop this year.”

Also, this year’s crop follows several large production years and that could be a factor in a smaller load of nuts. “This just could be an off year for our area.”

The nut size is good this year, but he cautions that the larger nuts won’t be enough to make up the frost loss.

Unlike some growers on the water-short West Side of the San Joaquin Valley, Loquaci has well water. But, the water table is dropping, and in some cases, that means deepening existing wells or adding bigger pumps to go after deeper water. Many farmers are drilling as deep as 500 feet.

Loquaci recently drilled a 525-foot reverse rotation gravel pack well with a 14-inch casing. Figuring $115 per foot to drill the well, plus the price of the pump, costs totaled close to $100,000.